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Print Editions Thursday September 28th, 2023

CS alum schedules time to create popular website, run for office

As a student, Engel helped create a Tetris game projected on the SciLi and designed When2Meet

When Don Engel ’00 SCM’01 was a member of the Undergraduate Council of Students, he invited co-founder of Apple Steve Wozniak to play a casual game of Tetris on the side of the Sciences Library.

After helping create a larger-than-life version of the legendary game at the SciLi with fellow members of Technology House, Engel also founded the popular scheduling site When2Meet in his senior year, and acted as a deputy campaign manager for David Cicilline ’83 during his first bid for mayor of Providence after graduating.

Motivated to join public service by his experiences at Brown, Engel is now trying to bring a scientific perspective to politics through his campaign to become a member of the Maryland General Assembly.


Tetris tactics

The game of tetris played in the windows of the SciLi is part of the legacy Engel left at Brown.

The idea for the project came from the introductory computer science course CSCI 0150: “Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming and Computer Science,” Engel said. A major project for the course is to design a Tetris game from scratch.

“Students working in the CIT would walk outside still thinking of their Tetris codes and see the SciLi,” he said. “That’s where the inspiration came from.”

Engel was a member of the class of students in Tech House who were behind the project and helped to work out problems in the software. He also suggested the group string holiday lights on the side of the 14-story building, he said.

“Fluorescent lights wouldn’t turn on fast enough,” Engel said, adding that holiday lights increased the speed of the program’s response, made the project financially feasible and offered better visibility of the game from the ground.

“(Engel) was always trying to push boundaries,” said Soren Spies ’00, project manager of the Tetris team. “(He helped) convince all of us that it was possible.”

Spies referred to Engel as “enthusiastic,” “gung-ho” and loyal to the true purpose of Tech House’s mission. He added, “Tech House was more conservative than he was.”


When When2Meet began

During Engel’s senior year at Brown, he created the popular scheduling website as a way to address the frustration experienced by members of clubs and student groups when trying to find times to meet.

“I had a problem that I needed to solve,” Engel said.

When2Meet allows groups of people to determine a common time and date to meet using a calendar that multiple users can edit to show their availabilities. Since the site’s creation in 2000, it has grown to receive around 7,000 hits per day, Engel said.

Engel added that the site’s users are mostly in the Providence area and around Philadelphia, where he received a Ph.D. in physics from Penn in 2006.

“I never advertised (the website),” Engel said. “It just passed down from year to year.”

Sara Miller, Israel engagement fellow at Brown RISD Hillel, said she was surprised to discover that a Brown alum created When2Meet and that a student introduced her to the website over a year ago.

“It’s a wonderful interface,” she said, adding that the site is extremely useful because “Brown students are very busy.”

Timothy Sharng ’15.5, who transferred to Brown from the University of Toronto this semester, said he didn’t find out about the website until he arrived on College Hill. “It’s very intuitive and easy-to-use,” he said.


Political ‘science’

Engel got his first taste of public service when he worked as deputy campaign manager for the first mayoral campaign of David Cicilline ’83, where he used his technological expertise to analyze data for the campaign.

“I realized I could make a difference,” he said.

While he was at Penn, the American Physical Society selected Engel to serve Congress for two years as a science and technology policy adviser. Engel worked for Congressman Rush Holt, D-NJ, during the first year of his fellowship, and he was the Senior Science Policy Fellow during his second year, Engel said.

After working with both local and national governments, Engel decided he preferred to serve the community on a local level. Engel currently represents the 42nd district on the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee and works as Assistant Vice President for Research at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

When one of the three seats in his district opened up for the General Assembly, Engel was the first candidate to start campaigning for the seat.

“I’m living in the district where I grew up, and a big part of who I am is this community,” Engel said. “Being able to be their voice (is very important) to me.”

Engel said his professional background in the sciences would bring a necessary and unique perspective to the state legislature.

“There are a lot of (political) issues involved in science and technology,” he said, mentioning Maryland’s issues with fracking and building offshore wind power sources. “It would be good to have a person who (representatives) could turn to when normally they would turn to lobbyists.”



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